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Uganda hails new King Oyo

18-year-old now heads traditional Tooro kingdom with uneasy relations with Ugandan government.

FORT PORTAL, Uganda — When a lanky Ugandan teenager recently took charge of one of his country’s oldest tribal kingdoms it was difficult to tell how the young monarch felt about the job he’d inherited.

Eighteen-year-old Oyo Nyimba Kabamba Iguru Rukidi IV technically became the king of western Uganda’s Tooro kingdom at age 3, when his father died suddenly of a heart attack.

But Tooro custom dictates that a king cannot fully assume the duties of office until adulthood.

So, a few days after his 18th birthday, with the ice-capped Rwenzori mountains in the distant background, Oyo’s enthusiastic subjects crammed into the garden of his hilltop palace to witness a coming-of-age ceremony attended by tribal leaders from across Africa and Uganda’s political elite, including President Yoweri Museveni.

Some guests, the distinguished ones seated on the raised platform adjacent to the palace door, wore nothing but animal skins and bangles.

Others, the evidently less wealthy clan chiefs from the Tooro kingdom, wore dark slacks and poorly pressed dress shirts, but carried spears, tacitly acknowledging the “tribal” nature of the event.

Through most of the ceremony, whether he was greeting a visiting noble from Ghana, or a well-wishing guest from a nearby village, Oyo looked uncomfortable, perhaps even grumpy.

“He’s a very friendly, but very reserved young man. I don’t know how he copes with the pressure,” said Evah Baguma, a 50-year-old family friend.

“I have seen him in the palace and sometimes I feel bad for him. All that protocol. Rules on how to behave.”

Oyo’s apparent unease during the ceremony might have been related to the politically volatile status of tribal kingdoms in modern Uganda.

The country’s independence from Britain in 1962 resulted directly from a pact between the political and tribal elite. The firebrand socialist and independence crusader Milton Obote became Prime Minister and handed the ceremonial presidency to King Edward Mutesa of Uganda’s largest tribe, the Buganda.

But the deal didn’t hold. In 1966 Obote expelled Mutesa, claimed the presidency for himself and outlawed all tribal kingdoms.

The instability and resentment of Obote that followed those expulsions largely led to the 1972 coup by the colorful but brutal military dictator Idi Amin, according to many Ugandan historians and analysts.